Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party will ensure equal rights for all nationalities and religions in the predominantly Buddhist country if it wins the general elections next month, a party official said Tuesday.
“The NLD pledges to protect equal rights for every nationality and religion if it wins in the November elections,” said Win Htein, an NLD Central Executive Committee member and aide to party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, at an election education talk in Yangon.
The party used the opportunity to introduce parliamentary candidates Than Naing Oo, Soe Pa Pa Hlaing, Ba Myo Thein and Khin Saw Wai to the public.
The pledge came following a declaration by prominent monk Wirathu of the Ma Ba Tha nationalist Buddhist group that the group will endorse the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the Nov. 8 elections.
The hardline group recently publicly celebrated the passage of four controversial Protection of Race and Religion Laws purporting to protect the Buddhist religion, which raised fears about the intermingling of religion with politics before the elections in a country that has suffered major interreligious violence in recent years.
Earlier this year, authorities denied voting rights to thousands of Rohingya Muslims after parliament banned people without full citizenship from participating in the elections.
Furthermore, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC), the body responsible for the polls in the upcoming general elections, has largely excluded Muslim candidates based on their failure to meet citizenship requirements.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is campaigning across the country, wrapped up several days of political rallies on Tuesday in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, where the ethnic Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has clashed with government troops since early September.
“The 2015 election is a chance for us to build a democratic country which our hero General Aung San wanted,” said Tin Oo, deputy leader and co-founder of the pro-democracy party said, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, architect of the country’s independence from Britain, who was assassinated in 1947.
“It is time for a change,” he said.
Tin Oo spent almost seven years in prison and under house arrest under the military junta that ruled the country before 2011, when current President Thein Sein became head of a quasi-military government.
“Because we now must stamp the voting documents, which is a new voting method for people, we came here to explain how to affix the stamp to the paper and vote correctly,” Mie Mie, an activist and prominent member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Group, formerly known as the 88 Generation Students, which is working with the NLD to ensure free and fair elections.
Min Ko Naing, another member of the 88 Generation group, stressed the need for eligible voters to be included on voter lists.
“It is important for everybody to have their names on the voter lists and to vote carefully if they are on the lists,” said the democracy activist and dissident.
Voter list errors
The NLD has criticized the UEC for the many existing errors on voter lists, including the names of dead people, omissions of current voters, and incorrect birth dates, names and national registration numbers, fearing that these could hurt its chance for victory in the elections.
On Monday during a campaign stop in the town of Mohnyin in Kachin state, Aung San Suu Kyi blasted the UEC for saying it could ensure that nationwide voter lists were only 30 percent accurate, according to a report by the Eleven Myanmar media group.
Because the NLD believes that hundreds of thousands of fake names could be included on the lists, it has called on its members to review the documents and submit complaints to local election subcommissions to make corrections so they don’t endanger the conducting of free and fair elections.
“We have to wait and investigate the enormous number of errors on the voter list,” Min Ko Naing said. “Dead people’s names are on it, while the names of [some] people who are still alive are not.”
The UEC has blamed errors on software problems and placed the burden upon voters themselves to make sure their names and details appear correctly on the lists.
About 32 million of Myanmar’s population of more than 53 million will be eligible to vote in the Nov. 8 election, which the NLD is widely expected to win.
However, Aung San Suu Kyi — whose party won the vote in 1990 but was kept out of office by the then-ruling junta — cannot assume the presidency because her sons are British citizens.
The elections will largely been seen as an indication of where Myanmar is headed in its transformation from an authoritarian nation to a democratic one.
Reported by Myo Zaw Ko for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.